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Published April 26, 2016
After the final horn and before the ceremonial handshakes, some St. Louis Blues players did a little ice dancing.
Deservedly so. This celebration was a long, long time coming.
It's early in the playoffs, but there's reason for exuberance after they eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of their first-round Western Conference series Monday night. The 3-2 victory ended a string of three straight one-and-dones for a franchise that's usually among the NHL's best in the regular season.
"A good feeling to go through that line and smile for a change, rather than have the frown and the sad faces that we've had so many times," captain David Backes said. "We're going to enjoy this for the rest of the night."
Troy Brouwer, who tapped a backhander past Corey Crawford for the go-ahead goal midway through the third period, was acquired from Washington and brought experience from the Blackhawks' 2010 Cup team and six prior Game 7s. He joined a long-suffering core that includes goalie Brian Elliott; forwards Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund and Backes; and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo still around from the 2012 team that made it to the second round before getting swept by the Los Angeles Kings en route to a Cup.
Of course, some have suffered longer.
Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is in his fourth season with the Blues and 13th season overall, with previous stops in Florida and Calgary. This is the first time he's been on a team that won a playoff series.
"First Game 7, first time I win," Bouwmeester said.
Talented rookies Colton Parayko and Robby Fabbri got it right the first time and figure to gain traction in the second round against Western Conference top seed Dallas in what could be another gritty series.
The Blues took the season series 4-1 against the Stars, two of the victories going to overtime and one decided in a shootout.
Knocking off the Blackhawks, who have won three of the last five Cups, was a very good first start.
"We have an opportunity in front of us," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I'm sure everybody in that room knows it's going to get harder. But we have knowledge and it's the emotional knowledge of how deep you have to dig. We found that in this series. I want us to use it now."
Brouwer's first goal in 24 postseason games since 2013 ended a tense series that was either tied or a one-goal game 91 percent of the time, according to NHL.com.
Chicago just missed a chance to tie it when Brent Seabrook's shot went off both posts with about 3:30 left. Coach Joel Quenneville came close to challenging the play.
"It's a nerve-racking thing to try to protect a one-goal lead like that late in a game, especially when there's so much on the line," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "All we were trying to do is make them make one mistake."
There were no miscues down the stretch, no shaky play.
"For a franchise that's had trouble getting out of the first round, it's a big confidence booster," Brouwer said. "When you're not able to do it, you start doubting yourself and tonight is a huge encouragement."
Jori Lehtera scored his first career playoff goal and Parayko also scored for St. Louis, which gave up a two-goal cushion for the second straight game but didn't fold in Game 7.
Marian Hossa scored his third goal of the series and Andrew Shaw got his fourth on a power play for the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane was dangerous all night but was scoreless and minus-3.
The Blues prevailed despite getting outscored 11-3 in the second period of the series and getting little from standout Vladimir Tarasenko in the finale. The star forward's ice time of 14:31 was second-fewest on the top three lines.